Boss Up with Bevin Your dream life is at the end of your comfort zone

2015-07-13

An Open Letter to Oprah about Crop Tops and Body Positivity

This is a letter I wrote to Oprah Magazine in response to a call for reader input in the August 2015 issue. It is in response to the totally banal and fatphobic response to a reader question in O Magazine that folks should wear crop tops “If (and only if) they have flat stomachs.” I generally skim or skip the style and beauty content in O Magazine every month because it’s written towards folks who are seeking a more neutral style than I am looking for. But given the deep internet controversy I thought this was a great time to offer Oprah some unsolicited advice about how she could be doing better.

Since posts are better with photos of lots of folks with different bodies, I have asked my friends to be part of a crop top army, their photos and links are throughout this post.

IMAG0213If I had a Bevin Magazine and I did it like Oprah with my photo on every cover this is what my cover could look like one month.

Dear Oprah:

I am writing this from the place of being very steeped in Oprah culture. Like many folks, I am a longtime fan. Growing up watching your talk show at my babysitters and getting more interested in your message of self-improvement once I got to college in the late 90s. I remember saving up to buy an Iyanla Vanzant book I saw on your show. I’ve always identified strongly with you and your interview style, my friends even started calling me “The Queer Oprah” about a decade ago because of my way of asking the right follow-up questions and getting deep into someone’s story, similar to your skillset. I like to ask questions until I really understand something and walk through the world with curiosity, which I believe you do as well and what makes you so good at what you do. I buy all the book club books. I’ve had a subscription to O Magazine for several years, and maintain a hoard of back issues for reference.

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Photo of Laura Luna, one of my favorite folks on social media. Her insights and vulnerabilities and fun are very inspirational. Here are her words as a caption to this photo. I highly recommend an instagram follow! “That time at #amc2015 when I got pulled up on stage by @leahrosegallegos from @lascafeteras to share a dance and everything around me felt magical cos femmes and a little of LA in Detroit and how because of seeing so many brilliant fats strutting their stuff at the conference I felt safe and even a little liberated to wear this outfit and dance dance dance in front of what seemed like a sea of people.#femme #queer #qpoc #qwoc #femmesofcolorvisibility #fat #xicana #latina #femmeofcolor #fatvanity #pocbodyposi #effyourbeautystandards #fatpoc.” Photo was taken at the Allied Media Conference by Ara Howrani.

Ever since you started OWN, I’ve been an even stronger fan, your spiritual programming really resonates with my eclectic mix of spirituality. I kept cable much longer than I could afford to because I wanted to continue to have access to OWN. (Because it streams online the parade of spiritual thought leaders on Super Soul Sunday is still part of my life, but if you made Next Chapter and Iyanla Fix My Life available for purchase like Bravo does with their shows I would be a very happy camper who doesn’t have cable.)

I say all of that to position what I’m about to say from a place of love and constructive feedback. I get what you do in the world, I get where you have been going recently, and I think you can do a whole lot better when it comes to talking about people’s bodies.

The original instagram post that started it all, according to news reports.

You were at the forefront of diet culture for decades, folks watched you openly struggle with controlling your body. Your value for your body echoed the dominant culture, that you should be thin. I think it’s important to recognize that the diet focus you had for many years influenced people, and caused harm by reiterating body shame and body hatred for all of the people watching who view you as a role model.

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Photo of Amanda Joy. Check out her art website and her instagram!

People change and people evolve, and I’ve noticed in the past few years much less emphasis on dieting in the Oprahverse–that has been a welcome shift.

I hated my body for so many years. So when I watched you dieting growing up, I identified with feelings of futility and wanting to try yet another thing to control my body. I hated myself so much that it consumed me. More often than not, my idle thoughts were spent berating myself, rather than focusing on bigger ideas or being open to seeing the world around me. I didn’t know how to be present. I was always focused on the future, the thin body I would one day have that would solve all of my problems. Or I was focused on the past, my failures, and deep depression.

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My friend Chavon modeling for Booty and the Geek. In Chavon’s spare time she makes geeky themed frames and journals, check them out on instagram.

Ironically, though the Oprah show reiterated my body hatred, it was an Oprah Book Club selection that helped me begin my journey to stop hating myself. Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone featured a fat main character who hated herself so completely I felt shame for identifying with her so strongly, and vowed to work to stop hating myself.

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Photo of Pizzacupcake, one half of the duo GAYMOUS, showing the important relative to the crop top–the side belly cut out. You can buy the incredible GAYMOUS EP here. (Their Let’s Pretend We Don’t Have Feelings video is also worth watching!) Photo by Danielle Billingsley.

It would be years until I got to the stop hating my body part of that journey, but once I did I was free to open my mind up to the world and step into an activist role working to help all people realize that they are worthy of love no matter what their body looks like. I really believe that my purpose in life was blocked and my spirituality was not accessible to me when I let myself stay obsessed with hating my body and myself. A big part of my spiritual awakening happened because I was able to love and inhabit my body, realizing that I was here in the body I was given for a purpose. Part of that purpose is to help folks heal the shame of a society steeped in body currency. (Body currency is a term coined by Jes Baker that I explain in this post.)

11202448_914884111888521_3032253831620096736_nI just started wearing crop tops this year. I’ve been slow to start wearing crop tops, even though I’ve been rocking a fatkini for a couple of years. I am forever indebted to my queer fat femme style icons for doing it for so long and helping me learn that it’s okay to flaunt and love your belly at any size. Photo by my friend Anne at Rebel Cupcake in June, 2015.

Now I’m present. I love my body and it frees me up to really inhabit this life. To focus on my purpose. To enjoy the world this time around. To have so much fun that it makes up for the years of depression, self-loathing and misery.

Fringe shorts on the Fire Island Ferry! Heading to Cherry Grove! 🍒

A video posted by Bevin (@queerfatfemme) on

Speaking of fun, press play on this video and see how much fun I’m having in my Diet Industry Dropout crop top!

The body shaming response to a reader’s question about whether she could wear a crop top, “If (and only if)” she has a flat stomach is causing public outrage for good reason. This is a chance to get on the right side of history. More and more folks are deciding to love their bodies and wear whatever they want to display those bodies.

I was disappointed that the public response from O Magazine (as printed on People.com) was trite and shallow. “We support, encourage and empower all women to look great, feel confident and live their best lives – in this case, we could have expressed it better. We appreciate the feedback and will be more mindful going forward.” Actually, doing what you did caused harm to folks, much like the constant diet chatter caused harm on the Oprah show. Not just “could have done better” but how about instead of being just mindful you really do something different?

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This is Al Benkin. “I’m a otherly abled gender non conforming queer working artist. I am a proud She. My bramd is Beautiful Mutant Art aka Mutantland.” You can follow Al on instagram!

This is an opportunity to move forward with utilizing your platform to include body positivity. I think you can acknowledge that every person has humanity–do all humans deserve dignity regardless of their body’s appearance? Can you be open to the fact that our culture creates a hierarchy of bodies and that race, class, gender, gender presentation, sexuality, culturally approved beauty, amount of cellulite, body hair, age, ability and a ton of other factors ranks us and pits us against each other?

That keeping us hating our bodies and focused on dieting is a way to hypnotize us while folks who have their body currency on lock (white, thin, straight, wealthy men) use it to profit off of us?

This is a chance for you to use your clout to actually change our culture. You are a thought leader. What you amplify in your media makes a difference in people’s lives. You know from your experience on the diet roller coaster that body shame does not help people lose weight. It simply helps people hate themselves.

IMG_4486Photo of Jenna Riot, amazing femme DJ and style icon! Jenna’s instagram is here. More fun than the Kardashians.

Here are some ideas I suggest to adopt throughout the Oprah media platforms, including O Magazine, Oprah.com, and the Oprah Winfrey Network programming.

1. You can talk about nutrition and body love from the perspective of “all bodies are good bodies.” You can do this from a place of knowing that working to eat in alignment with the comfortable functioning of our body and movement for so many great, body loving reasons don’t necessarily have to be focused on an outcome of weight loss. That weight has nothing to do with people’s value. You can do a whole show about Health at Every Size!

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Photo of very talented performance artist Shane Shane by Odalys Diaz. I love Shane Shane’s FANCY belly tattoo.

2. Continue to suggest foods, eating patterns and physical movement that is focused on nourishing the body. You totally do this about half the time. (The other half of the time is printing a bunch of intense dessert and indulgent food recipes. Both are great! Both can be about celebrating food and bodies.) When you do this, try to not assign value to the food and movement you talk about.

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Photo of Kelly Higgins, self identified body positive straight girl. (I definitely think fatkinis are cousins of the crop top.)

3. How about a lifestyle show about people loving their bodies? Doing loving movement at every size. Getting various body positive activists to work with folks one on one on the show to help them work through their body shame. I have a lot of ideas for shows celebrating body love. There is so much fun to be had celebrating body love!

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Marina wore her first crop top last week! Here’s her tumblr.

4. Place a thematic emphasis throughout the Oprahverse on body love and healing aimed at young people. I imagine how different my life would have been if the Oprah Show had talked about body positivity and loving your body where it is at when I was an adolescent instead of making me want to go on a liquid diet. It would have been so freeing. It can still be so freeing to so many teens if you make this turn now.

You know who should be wearing crop tops? Everyone who wants to be wearing crop tops. Non-normative bodies wearing crop tops are important because they help make the world safer and easier for other folks to feel comfortable in their bodies. I’d love to see you in a crop top, Oprah. I don’t care what condition your belly is in, I know it is beautiful.

xoxo,

Bevin

P.S. I want to mention in this letter, because it’s an open letter, that it’s important to talk about the fact that just because people with all bodies CAN wear crop tops they don’t have to. It’s okay to be somewhere on the body love journey (or fashion preference journey) to not wear crop tops. No one should feel shame about their body love journey because they’re not ready to Rock the Crop.

Side note: How amazing would it be that, instead of the shallow “We’ll try to do better!” statement they actually issued, Oprah instead issued an apology with a promise that she’ll be on a future cover of Oprah Magazine wearing a “Diet Industry Drop Out” crop top?

Just saying.

11747402_10155735014085702_614776046_oPhoto of Jacqueline Mary by Courtney Trouble. Jacqueline wrote a great guest post about how to be a good ally to her crippled arm. She also is a DIY smut artist inclusive of all bodies, the link here is totally not safe for work: Heartless Productions.

2013-10-09

My Experience with the Heart Beets Holistic Seasonal Cleanse

A few months ago I began a health coach relationship with one of my friends. I actually really love the coaching experience–I had an artist life coach three years ago and the experience radically transformed me artistically and spiritually. There’s something about the accountability required with one on one attention and the individualized diagnostics that can happen with the right chemistry between coach and subject.

The gateway activity for me and Heart Beets Holistic health coaching was her seasonal cleanse. I was initially extremely dubious. I have heard about cleanses people have used before and they often seem like fad diets or fasting. Many people say “cleanse” as a euphamism for radical diet. As someone who is body positive, fat positive and virulently opposed to diet culture, I am not prone to want to jump on eating trends. Cleanses seem trendy right now.

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Vic. She’s not just a coach, she’s also a babe.

Heart Beets Holistic announced the first cleanse group and I immediately thought, “Not for me.” But Vic is persistent and persuasive, so though I didn’t think it was going to be a good thing I agreed to try it for the three week period. I trust Vic as a body positive, health at every size focused health professional. She believes all bodies are good bodies. She’s a nurse practitioner and a holistic health pratitioner who is very excited about fat. “Mo’ fat mo’ betta!” she likes to say to me.

“I can’t seem to get full!” I say to her.

“Eat more fat!” she replies.

She’s the first health practitioner I’ve ever been involved with who is pro fat but she is right when she tells me to put butter on stuff. It’s the opposite of how I was raised. It was a non-fat milk, low fat food kind of lifestyle, even though I was always fat.

The cleanse was appealing to me because it was about eliminating the most inflammatory foods. Sugar, dairy, wheat/gluten, corn, peanuts, eggs, and soy. I have kicked sugar before and I felt great, so I knew this would help me reinvent my eating.

She gave us recipes for every meal. Most cleansers were doing two smoothies a day, one in the morning and one at night, but because of my IBS (Irritabel Bowel Syndrome*) Vic didn’t want me to have so much fiber so close to bed, so I was to eat bone broth with veggies cooked in it at night. There was a healthy, filling lunch in the middle of the day and we got recipes for that, too.

I also have been interested in moving towards a whole foods lifestyle and I found the cleanse really helpful for that. Focusing on eating whole foods–not processed or pre-packaged and getting down with some vegetables I hadn’t used before was easy to learn through the methods of the cleanse. It also reset a lot of my eating habits and made me focus on my eating in a new way.

It wasn’t a cheap process. The cleanse experience made me think a lot about food justice. It’s really hard to eat well in an inner-city, and it costs a lot of money. Stuff with wheat in it is cheap! Processed food is cheap! We have all these corn subsidies so corn stuff is cheap!

Getting the things I needed for the cleanse recipes took a lot of hoofing it around Brooklyn and Manhattan (this would be easier if I lived in a town with a Whole Foods and a car). But Vic is also all about teaching you how to do things cheaper, and towards the middle of the cleanse we can replace protein powder with beans and nuts (together become a complete protein). Beans in a smoothie are weird but actually not bad.

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Grocery haul at the beginning of the cleanse.

I’m not going to lie, some of the smoothies were a little weird, but by the end you learn how to create your own to suit your palate, and being forced to try something new is actually a good exercise in learning how to deal with change.

At the beginning of the cleanse I was feeling very diet triggered. There was so much emphasis on what I couldn’t eat, so much focus on food that it made me think of all the millions of times I embarked on a diet. But I also recognize that, for me, when I am aware of a trigger, I can make different choices around my self-care. I recognized the feelings coming up of rebellion, “You can’t tell me what to do” and the familiar sense of failure that haunts diets in the life of a fat person. But I reminded myself that my goals in this were to try a new way of eating and feel better, it wasn’t about losing weight or finally getting skinny so I could begin my life, which is what all my old diets were about.

I also could talk to my friends (and my health coach) about those feelings and work through them.

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Me, Randee, Vic (in the burger costume) and Leo.

The cleanse took some time and focus every day. All that food preparation is a good amount of work and at least a couple of trips to the grocery store a week to stock up on vegetables. But it was only three weeks and I kept reminding myself of that. I can do anything for three weeks.

I felt totally sore the first couple of weeks. She suggests epsom salt baths to help with the sugar detox, and I was taking herb supportive and immune system supportive tinctures three times a day. Vic also sent out journal prompts and daily breathing exercises to keep us working on the mind/body/spirit connection.

We also gave up smoking, caffeine, and alcohol during the cleanse.

I liked having friends who were involved in the cleanse with me. Leo did it, too, and we mutually bitched about all the stuff we missed and supported each other through it. There was a facebook group since we did this as a group for a seasonal thing (in May, this was the Spring detox) but Vic also does the cleanse with one on one coaching clients.

I had a lover over one night during the cleanse and I made her a smoothie that I was having. She had been fighting a cold for three weeks and after that smoothie she was totally back to normal. These smoothies are no joke, extremely filling and full of nutrients.

Tons of people asked me how it went and Jacqueline was the first to point out that my skin was glowing because it really was. Some people lose some weight on the cleanse and while I was actually at a pretty low weight for me to begin with I felt kind of puffy and I noticed the inflammation die down. I also had more energy and felt better overall.

After the cleanse was over there’s a re-entry period where you see what your body reacts to. Turns out I am really reactive to soy, corn and dairy, which kind of blows because I love a latte’ and hardly anyone has almond milk. (I’ve begun Yelp check-in tips about places that serve almond milk.)

The cleanse, for me, was great because it completely transformed how I eat, cook and relate to food. It was also the realization for me, as suggested by Vic, that I had a candida overgrowth and would need to treat that, too. I’ll blog more about the candida cure at a later date.

The cleanse also sparked a 90% reduction in my IBS symptoms. This is something I’ve struggled with for over six years, had two colonoscopies and upper endoscopies, lots of medicine and nothing has helped other than avoiding food triggers. But it turns out that many of my food triggers (raw salad, kale, broccoli, blueberries) are totally digestible if I’m eating in this whole foods way. Doing the candida cure this summer has resulted in an almost entire elimination of IBS for me, which feels like a miracle because, while mine was not a terrible case compared to others, it was definitely really difficult under constant threat of debilitating digestive episodes.

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Pretty stoked to be eating broccoli again.

If you’re interested in doing the cleanse with Vic, I say go for it. Her packages are sliding scale and each comes with two coaching sessions, which happen over the phone. Also, if you’re interested in having a supportive, body positive health coach who is really amazing, I highly endorse Heart Beets Holistic Heath.

*For me the IBS “diagnosis” was basically my second gastroenterologist telling me “We don’t know what’s wrong with you but there’s something wrong with how you digest food.” Super unhelpful. So people with IBS often present differently with different symptoms.

***

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